The Chicago Cubs have gotten a gem from Jon Lester on the mound. Javier Baez has done–well, everything he can on defense. But to advance, the key hitters of the lineup are going to need to make their presence felt.
When you’re sitting during an off day during this NLCS, you can’t help but talk about the offense of the Chicago Cubs. Our David Miniel made the extent of a fans plea for them to pick it up earlier today. Joe Maddon has faith that his guys will figure it out. I for one hope he’s right. The entire postseason has been dominated by strong pitching, as is evidenced by the numbers on offense.
The Cubs have posted a team ERA of 2.84, while the starters have logged a 2.45 ERA. Of the teams still in it, only the Cleveland Indians’ rotation has been better with a 1.88 (1.60 Team). And the defense has been brilliant for the Cubs all postseason. Baez has made several sparkling plays throughout the playoffs. And Dexter Fowler has put the talk of him being a “sub par fielder” to rest with some great defense.
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But of the four remaining contenders, the Cubs have posted the worst offensive numbers by far. They are last in AVG (.193), OBP (.251) and are just five points ahead of the Dodgers in SLG (.361). Of the seven home runs and 26 RBIs? The pitchers have accounted for two of those home runs and driven in six. The pitchers have accounted for roughly a quarter of the team’s offense this postseason. You simply can’t count on that every night.
The Cubs have three wins in their last at-bat, but that’s playing with fire as well. Take last night’s game for example. The Cubs allowed just one run. Kyle Hendricks allowed a solo home run to Adrian Gonzalez (a top-notch hitter) for the only run. The defense–especially Baez–continued to play stellar defense. But ZERO runs isn’t ever going to win a baseball game, no matter how good the pitching and defense is.
No need to get silly
Now, I’ve seen some crazy ideas from fans. Benching Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell for one. Look, I get that they’re struggling. But these are the horses that got you to this point. And their best chance of breaking out is to play–not sit. Could Albert Almora start and have a breakout game? Of course, he could. But the chances are just as good that Rizzo and Russell will do the same.
Here’s where I would go as far as a “solution” to solve this problem. And remember my experience next to Maddon’s in zilch. In an effort to inject offense without sacrificing defense, there’s a compromise–sort of. First, sit Jason Heyward. I love this guy. He had a terrible season, but he hasn’t hung his head. He’s kept grinding, doing whatever he could to help the team win. But he’s been awful (he’s not alone, but it’s a bigger sample for him). Move Kris Bryant to left, Ben Zobrist back to second base. Give Jorge Soler a start in right field. He was a clutch performer last year. What you’ll lose on defense in right, you’ll gain back in left.
Zobrist plays so many positions well, but he looks least comfortable in the outfield. And that’s likely because he’s logged most of his innings at second base this season. Bryant has turned into a strong outfielder–better than Zobrist, in my opinion. With those moves, you slide Baez over to third and–voila–the Cubs Game 3 offense. You could also interchange Willson Contreras with Soler, and slide Bryant to right. Then put David Ross behind the plate. He’s been so damn impressive in this final season.
As far as the batting order, I’m open there. I do think it’s time to move Baez up, and possibly switch Bryant and Rizzo around. But again, with a few tweaks of the lineup the order might not have to change all that much. Even with the defense and strong pitching, I think Maddon waiting for his stars to break out is a dangerous proposition. But I still trust what he’s doing–but that doesn’t mean I we can’t second guess just a little bit.